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Agriculture Farmers Are Considered ‘Essential’ Workers, but Are Not Treated as Such

NORTHRIDGE, CA- Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses in California shut down for the safety and health of others, but the agriculture industry continued to operate, mainly depending on an undocumented workforce. Despite being deemed as essential workers, they are not qualified for the many benefits offered to essential workers.

Guillermo Magdeleno and his workers on the agriculture farm. Photo credit: Katherine Hernandez.

Workers and advocates say that because undocumented workers are denied federal coronavirus assistance, they are most likely not going to tell someone when they are sick. As a result, their biggest worry is getting ill and not being able to work.

With more than 800,000 farm workers in California, they are more likely to die from COVID-19 than any other industry. According to The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, farmers work long extensive hours working on the field and are in proximity with many people. As a result, the risk is high between shared housing and transportation, working on the field, and limited access to hygiene or clean water.

Health officials blame the spread of the coronavirus on the working conditions that farmers face. The government is also under fire for not making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory within the agriculture industry. But others blame federal policies that prevent undocumented farmworkers from getting access to vaccinations, stimulus payments, and health care assistance.

“I thank God that I haven’t gotten covid because we work so much and put our health on the line. The government doesn’t realize that. We don’t receive the help we deserve,” says Benito Juarez, a farmer.

Farmer workers say they want to be treated equally with respect and dignity, but still, there is much awareness to be brought to light regarding their rights and citizenship. Unlike many other growers, Guillermo Magdeleno wants the best for its employees. “They have 10 to 15 years they haven’t seen their family. It’s not possible. They suffer from every aspect of their life,” says Magdeleno. “They risk their lives to put food on the table not only for their families but for the people that buy our produce,” he continued.

“We do not have a plan to fall back on. There is no plan b. To us, this is our only plan,” said Tony DeJuan. “Relying on our own home remedies is how we have gotten by and gotten better. Depending on the luxury of seeing a professional doctor is not something obtainable,” continued Dejuan.

Laborers across the country are underpaid while putting their health on the line. They hope their work, which is deemed essential, will be recognized and that the U.S. will also one day welcome them legally.

Video credit: NBC News

Video credit: Katherine Hernandez

By Katherine Hernandez

Contributions by

Photo Courtesy of Katherine Hernandez

Video, Katherine Hernandez

Video, NBC News NOW


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

USDA Agriculture Counts

Farmers GOV

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